Digital transformation in UK policing – the road ahead
26 Feb 2021 01:13 PM
Guest Blog: Digital transformation within policing and the criminal justice system has gathered pace in recent years, and the pandemic in particular has been a key driver; but Raj Singh, CEO, Innotatio, warns that successive waves of future transformation will bring with them fresh challenges.
UK policing has taken a leapfrog jump with digital transformation over the past 10 years. Over these years, the profile of threat, harm and risks have changed rapidly; policing has delivered a significant amount of challenging transformation initiatives to address these changes within the limitations of its operating environment, policy framework and funding pressures, as well as constant critical examination by the media.
In the digital age, the time gap between waves of transformational change is shrinking rapidly. Unpredicted events such as the current pandemic have shown that digital adoption can be accelerated beyond our normal estimates. So, what has been the status of digital transformation so far, and what are the key factors that have delivered the success to date? What is the ask from the entire law enforcement value chain to lead UK policing into its next digital transformation wave? Let us examine these and some challenges that will be faced by the UK policing in this rapidly evolving landscape.
Police and CJS digital progress
In the era of mobile first, all but two police forces in the UK have some form of a mobile solution now being used by officers on the front line. This needs to be seen in the context that in 2007, front-line operational processes were just getting mobilised in a few lighthouse police forces, mostly in terms of some basic form filling and a combination of policing database searches. At the same time, remote working was also getting piloted.
The changing demographic of police forces, targeted funding, continuous follow-up from the Home Office and the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC), conscious efforts by the policing leadership at the local force level, combined with the overall public mood towards adoption of mobile platforms, have all contributed towards this progress significantly. Active participation by police officers on sharing best practice, collective engagement with the consolidated marketplace and exemplary work by the Frontline Digital Mobility Board working in conjunction with the Police ICT Company has added significant impetus in this area during last 10 to 12 months. Digital transformation within the wider criminal justice value chain has been discussed for a significant amount of time. However, UK policing and the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) are now moving one step forward in this area under the Digital Case File Project. There is an agreement between 44 police forces and the 14 CPS Areas to move towards a fully digital exchange of case file preparation. When fully developed and adopted, this will kick-start the process of digital transformation within the wider justice and public safety value chain.
In a similar vein, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Services has just gone live with a common platform in the first early adopter courts in Derbyshire. Over 600 hearings have been managed on this new common platform. These cases include overnight hearings, bail cases and trials in the magistrates’ courts, and pre-trial preparations and sentencing hearings in the Crown Court.
DVLA are using the same platform for four single justice procedure (SJP) prosecutions. SJPs can now be used for two public disorder and drunk and disorderly offences by the police forces initially using the current Libra platform, which will transition to the new common platform in the near future. National Identity and Access Management (IAM) services, when fully implemented, will provide police officers and staff with secure access to multiple business systems, which will become a lever for unified customer experience as well as significant efficiency gains.
The Home Office has made the IAM a standard for the Home Office law enforcement systems. It has been revamping a number of law enforcement systems and is following the Government’s digital services guidelines to deliver user-friendly services which are easy for adoption by the front-line officers. Delivery of these capabilities to the front line, away from fixed locations right in the field, is a key priority and is embedded in the core of these change programmes. For example, as part of the Home Office Biometrics programme, a project has been started to support the delivery of digital fingerprints and facial capture away from a fixed location, to improve the quality of capture and speed up the return of key information to the front line.
Waves of transformation
Looking at this impressive catalogue of digital transformation initiatives and capabilities, one may think that perhaps digital transformation in UK policing has come of age and there will be smooth sailing going forward. It is within this context that we need to do the future gazing to see what lies ahead, what new challenges the future will present, and what leadership qualities will be needed to successfully navigate the ever-shrinking time period between digital transformation waves of the future.
As we have seen in this pandemic, organisations including UK policing have adapted remarkably well to embrace digital under very challenging and resource starved circumstances. In future the gap between digital transformation waves will shrink dramatically and hence the key challenge for the policing leadership will be agility and speed in a normal business environment, not just in crisis. The current speed of digital transformation needs to exponentially accelerate in order to meet future demands.
The second challenge will be to successfully combine transformation in the digital and physical worlds. The digital world will be innovating at a very high pace, whereas the physical world will be moving at a slow pace. The leadership that can navigate these two transformation tracks moving at different speeds, bringing them together successfully, will create huge value and will be remembered for their contribution to society.
The third challenge will be the deep end of changes lying ahead. UK policing has so far delivered point digital transformations. It has not tasted the end-to-end transformation around significant operational areas. These future end-to-end digital transformation opportunities will deliver business benefits and customer experience gains in the multiples of what has been delivered so far by the current transformation initiatives collectively. But this will also mean that the operational leadership will need to look at technology strategically in a more involved way, rather than leaving it largely to the digital policing leadership.
On the other hand, digital policing leadership should adapt to be led by the operational leadership, both in letter and spirit, and simplify technology explanations for the operational teams. In recent years, technology and operational leadership have worked much closer when compared to earlier years. However, in future digital transformation waves the line between operational and technology leadership will itself get blurred and technology will no longer remain a specialist standalone function. Cross-functional teams from professional standards, learning and development, employee relations, operational officers, forensic scientists, digital policing, legal, business change and many other disciplines will come together to solve wider business problems and deliver in a networked organisation construct.
The challenge of responsible use
The fourth and the most critical challenge will be around the responsible use of technology. The three key questions around the responsible use of technology faced by the policing leadership alongside technology providers will be:
- How do we use data without taking people’s privacy away?
- How do we use platforms without creating monopolies?
- How do we use artificial intelligence (AI) in a human-centric way without losing control?
In the past, the Government (policy makers) has been trusted to ensure responsible use of technology. The speed of innovation in the future will be so high that it will be naive to assume that the regulations will be able to keep up with guarding responsible use of technology.
The regulators and the Government will not want to put too many restrictions on technology to stifle innovation either. Therefore, it will be up to the technology and platform providers to put these controls in place to ensure that the technology is not used for what it is capable of but for what it is designed for.
Policing as a user of technology will be under constant scrutiny for responsible use of technology on one hand; on the other hand it will need to work with the wider society to put the onus of control on the technology and platform providers. We can see the early signs of that in facial recognition and messenger applications already. We have also seen how society has exerted pressure on the platform providers for putting controls on online grooming of the most vulnerable in society. This is just the beginning.
It is impossible to predict the future in the digital era. Hence in the future, successful policing leadership will move away from defining conventional plans and then managing their business around those plans. This unconventional leadership will be able to identify patterns and dream big about a future state of policing. Their teams and surrounding eco-system will share that dream and take that exciting journey in its pursuit. They will be purpose driven and disrupt the landscape of law enforcement and justice the way any other successful digital enterprise will do. Let us hope that those days are just around the corner!
The views expressed in this article are the personal views of Raj Singh, and do not represent views of any organisation he represents (including Innotatio, techUK, the NPCC and others).